Rosetta Probe Swoops Closer to Comet Destination than ISS is to Earth and Reveals Exquisite Views

NAVCAM image taken on 3 August 2014 from a distance of about 300 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The Sun is towards the bottom of the image in this orientation. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Europe’s Rosetta comet hunter achieved another milestone today, Aug 4, swooping in closer to its long sought destination than the International Space Station (ISS) is to Earth – and its revealing the most exquisitely sharp and detailed view yet of the never before visited icy wanderer soaring half a billion kilometers from the Sun.

The absolutely delightful photo above is the latest navcam taken of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta’s navcam camera on Aug. 3 from a distance of 300 kilometers and shows rocks, gravel and tiny crater like features on its craggily surface of smooth and rough terrain with deposits of water ice.

Rosetta will make history as Earth’s first probe ever to rendezvous with and enter orbit around a comet.

Now barely a day away from rendezvous, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) robotic Rosetta spacecraft has closed to a distance of less than 300 kilometers away from Comet 67P and the crucial orbital insertion engine firing.

By comparison, the ISS and its six person crew orbits Earth at an altitude of some 400 kilometers (about 250 miles).

And its getter even closer! – Essentially to what we would call ‘the edge of space’ on Earth; 100 kilometers or 62 miles.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2 and 3 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km and 300 km. Not to scale.  Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM   Collage/Processing: Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2 and 3 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km and 300 km. Not to scale. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM Collage/Processing: Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Having successfully completed the penultimate orbit correction maneuver on Aug. 3, the engineering team at mission control at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany is making final preparations for the probes crucial last orbital insertion burn set for Wednesday, Aug. 6.

The Aug. 3 thruster firing known as the Close Approach Trajectory – pre-Insertion (CATP) burn lasted some 13 minutes and 12 seconds and reduced the spacecraft speed as planned by about 3.2 m/s.

“All looks good,” says Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Sylvain Lodiot, according to an ESA operations tweet.

The final thruster firing upcoming soon on Aug. 6 is known as the Close Approach Trajectory – Insertion (CATI) burn.

The CATI orbit insertion firing will slow Rosetta to essentially the same speed as comet 67P and place it in an initial orbit at a distance of about 100 kilometers (62 miles).

The CATP and CATI trajectory firings have the combined effect of slowing Rosetta’s speed by some 3.5 m/s with respect to the comet which is traveling at 55,000 kilometers per hour (kph).

After a ten year chase of 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) through interplanetary space and slingshots past Earth and Mars, the 1.3 Billion Euro spacecraft is at last ready to arrive at Comet 67P for a mission expected to last some 17 months.

The Navcam camera has been commanded to capture daily images of the comet that rotates around once every 12.4 hours.

See below our mosaic of navcam camera approach images of the nucleus captured of the mysterious two lobed comet, merged at a bright band in between as well as an OSIRIS camera image of the expanding coma cloud of water and dust..

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA   Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

After orbital inertion on Aug. 6, Rosetta will initially be travelling in a series of 100 kilometer-long triangular arcs while firings thrusters at each apex. Further engine firings will gradually lower Rosetta’s altitude about Comet 67P until the spacecraft is captured by the comet’s gravity.

Here is an ESA video showing Rosetta’s movements around the comet after arrival

Video caption: ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft will reach comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014. After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. Credit: ESA

After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus.  This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide.  Credit: ESA–C. Carreau
After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus. This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

In November 2014, Rosetta will attempt another historic first when it deploys the piggybacked Philae science lander from an altitude of just about 2.5 kilometers above the comet for the first ever attempt to land on a comet’s nucleus. The lander will fire harpoons to anchor itself to the 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) wide comet’s surface.

Together, Rosetta and Philae will investigate how the pristine frozen comet composed of ice and rock is transformed by the warmth of the Sun. They will also search for organic molecules, nucleic acids and amino acids, the building blocks for life as we know it.

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 on an Ariane 5 G+ rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

You can watch Rosetta’s Aug. 6 orbital arrival live from 10:45-11:45 CEST via a livestream transmission from ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Rosetta, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NAVCAM camera image taken on 2 August 2014 from a distance of about 500 kilometers from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
NAVCAM camera image taken on 2 August 2014 from a distance of about 500 kilometers from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Rosetta Orbiter less than 500 Kilometers from Comet 67P Following Penultimate Trajectory Burn

NAVCAM camera image taken on 2 August 2014 from a distance of about 500 kilometers from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

The Rosetta comet chaser is currently less than 500 kilometers (300 miles) from its target destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko following today’s (Aug. 3) successful completion of the spacecraft’s critically important penultimate trajectory burn, just three days before its history making arrival at the comet on Aug. 6.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) 1.3 Billion euro Rosetta spacecraft is now under three days away from becoming Earth’s first probe ever to rendezvous with and enter orbit around a comet after a decade long hunt of 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) through interplanetary space. The gap is narrowing with each passing second.

The last trajectory firing is set for Aug. 6. Altogether the final pair of trajectory burns will reduce the spacecrafts speed by some 3.5 meters per second (m/s) with respect to the comet which is traveling at 55,000 kilometers per hour (kph).

The probes latest Navcam camera image shot on Aug. 2, 2014 from a distance of about 500 kilometers from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko shows exquisite detail of the rubber ducky shaped body tumbling end over end. See above.

See below our mosaic of navcam camera approach images of the nucleus captured over the past week and a half of the mysterious two lobed comet, merged at a bright band in between.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA   Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail.
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

In November 2014, the Rosetta mothership will attempt another historic first when it deploys the Philae science lander from an altitude of just 1 or 2 kilometers for the first ever attempt to land on a comet’s nucleus. The lander will fire harpoons to anchor itself to the 4 kilometer wide (2.5 mile) comet’s surface.

Together, Rosetta and Philae will investigate how the pristine frozen comet composed of ice and rock is transformed by the warmth of the Sun. They will also search for organic molecules, nucleic acids and amino acids, the building blocks for life as we know it.

Did life on Earth begin with the help of comet seeding? That’s a question the Rosetta science team seeks to help answer.

Today’s early morning thruster firing, officially known as the Close Approach Trajectory – pre-Insertion (CATP) burn, began as scheduled at 11:00 CEST (09:00 GMT) and was due to last for about 13 minutes and 12 seconds and bleed off some 3.2 m/s of spacecraft speed.

Although it ended a few seconds early, ESA reports that the CATP burn went well as engineers monitored the spacecraft communications at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany via the agency’s 35 meter deep-space tracking station in New Norcia, Australia.

“All looks good,” says Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Sylvain Lodiot, according to an ESA operations tweet.

CATP is part of the final series of ten orbit correction maneuvers (OCM’s) that culminates with the final thruster firing slated for Aug. 6 dubbed the Close Approach Trajectory – Insertion (CATI) burn.

“The CATI burn will reduce the relative velocity to about 1 m/s,” says Lodiot. That’s about equivalent to human walking speed.

The CATI orbit insertion firing will slow Rosetta to essentially the same speed as a comet and place it in orbit at an initial stand-off distance of about 100 kilometers (62 miles).

Rosetta will initially be travelling in a series of 100 kilometer-long triangular arcs while firings thrusters at each apex. Further engine firings will gradually lower Rosetta’s altitude about Comet 67P until the spacecraft is captured by the comet’s gravity.

After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus.  This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide.  Credit: ESA–C. Carreau
After catching up with the comet Rosetta will slightly overtake and enter orbit from the ‘front’ of the comet as both the spacecraft and 67P/CG move along their orbits around the Sun. Rosetta will carry out a complex series of manoeuvres to reduce the separation between the spacecraft and comet from around 100 km to 25-30 km. From this close orbit, detailed mapping will allow scientists to determine the landing site for the mission’s Philae lander. Immediately prior to the deployment of Philae in November, Rosetta will come to within just 2.5 km of the comet’s nucleus. This animation is not to scale; Rosetta’s solar arrays span 32 m, and the comet is approximately 4 km wide. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

“All systems on the spacecraft are performing well and the entire team is looking forward to a smooth arrival,” says Lodiot.

It will study and map the wanderer composed of primordial ice, rock, dust and more and search for a suitable landing site for Philae.

The one-way signal time from Earth to Rosetta and Comet 67P is currently 22 minutes and 27 seconds as both loop around the Sun at a distance of some 555 million kilometres away from the Sun at this time. The short period comet is located between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

Rosetta will escort Comet 67P as they journey together inwards around the sun and then travel back out towards Jupiter’s orbit and investigate the physical properties and chemical composition of the comets nucleus and coma of ice and dust for some 17 months.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA    Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 on an Ariane 5 G+ rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

You can watch Rosetta’s Aug. 6 orbital arrival live from 10:45-11:45 CEST via a livestream transmission from ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Rosetta, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Rosetta Closing in on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after Decade Long Chase

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 to July 31, 2014, with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s coma on July 25 from a distance of around 3000 km. On July 31 Rosetta had approached to within 1327 km. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
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The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft is at last rapidly closing in on its target destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after a decade long chase of 6.4 billion kilometers through interplanetary space. See imagery above and below.

As of today, Friday, August 1, ESA reports that Rosetta has approached the ‘rubber ducky looking’ comet to within a distance of less than 1153 kilometers. That distance narrows with each passing moment as the speeding robotic probe moves closer and closer to the comet while looping around the sun at about 55,000 kilometers per hour (kph).

Rosetta is now just 5 days away from becoming Earth’s first probe ever to rendezvous and enter orbit around a comet.

See above our image collage of Rosetta nearing final approach with the spacecrafts most recent daily Navcam camera images, all taken within the past week starting on July 25 and including up to the most recently release image snapped on July 31. The navcam images are all to scale to give the sense of the spacecraft approaching the comet and revealing ever greater detail as it grows in apparent size in the cameras field of view. The navcam images were also taken at about the same time of day each day.

The highest resolution navcam image yet of the two lobed comet – merged at a bright band – was taken on July 31 from a distance of 1327 kilometers and published within the past few hours by ESA today, Aug 1. It shows the best view yet of the surface features of the mysterious bright necked wanderer composed of primordial ice, rock, dust and more.

The Navcam collage is combined with an OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System) wide angle camera view of the comet and its asymmetric coma of ice and dust snapped on July 25 from a distance of around 3000 km, and with an exposure time of 300 seconds. The OSIRIS image covers an area of about 150 x 150 km (90 mi x 90 mi). The images have been contrast enhanced to bring out more detail.

Scientists speculate that the comets bright neck region could be caused by differences in material or grain size or topological effects.

Rosetta’s history making orbital feat is slated for Aug. 6 following the final short duration orbit insertion burns on Aug. 3 and Aug. 6 to place Rosetta into orbit at an altitude of about 100 kilometers (62 miles) where it will study and map the 4 kilometer wide comet for some 17 months.

The comet rotates around once every 12.4 hours.

Crop from the 31 July processed image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to focus on the comet nucleus. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
Crop from the 31 July processed image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to focus on the comet nucleus. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

“If any glitches in space or on ground had delayed the most recent burns, orbital mechanics dictate that we’d only have had a matter of a few days to fix the problem, re-plan the burn and carry it out, otherwise we run the risk of missing the comet,” says Trevor Morley, a flight dynamics specialist at ESOC.

In November 2014 the Rosetta mothership will deploy the Philae science lander for the first ever attempt to land on a comet’s nucleus using harpoons to anchor itself to the surface while the comet is rotating.

As Rosetta edges closer on its final lap, engineers at mission control at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany have commanded the probes navigation camera (navcam) to capture daily images while the other science instruments also collect measurements analyzing the comets physical characteristics and chemical composition in detail.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This image collage from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant).  Top row shows images as seen by spacecraft. Bottom row shows images rotated to same orientation.  Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM. Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This image collage from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant). Top row shows images as seen by spacecraft. Bottom row shows images rotated to same orientation. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM. Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

The probe has already discovered that the comet’s surface temperature is surprisingly warm at –70ºC, which is some 20–30ºC warmer than predicted. This indicates the surface is too hot to be covered in ice and must instead have a dark, dusty crust, says ESA.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a short period comet some 555 million kilometres from the Sun at this time, about three times further away than Earth and located between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

You can watch the Aug. 6 orbital arrival live via a livestream transmission from ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

While you were reading this the gap between the comet and Rosetta closed to less than 1000 kilometers!

The coma of Rosetta's target comet as seen with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera. The image spans 150 km and was taken on 25 July 2014 with an exposure time of 330 seconds. The greyscale relates to the particle density in the coma, with highest density close to the nucleus, becoming more diffuse further away. The hazy circular structure on the right is an artefact. The nucleus is also overexposured. The specks and the streaks in the background are attributed to background stars and cosmic rays.  Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
The coma of Rosetta’s target comet as seen with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera. The image spans 150 km and was taken on 25 July 2014 with an exposure time of 330 seconds. The greyscale relates to the particle density in the coma, with highest density close to the nucleus, becoming more diffuse further away. The hazy circular structure on the right is an artefact. The nucleus is also overexposured. The specks and the streaks in the background are attributed to background stars and cosmic rays. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA    Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with negative OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Birthday cakes at @ESA_Rosetta Flight Dynamics are taking strange binary shapes these days... #ESOC. Credit:  ESA
Birthday cakes at @ESA_Rosetta Flight Dynamics are taking strange binary shapes these days… #ESOC. Credit: ESA

James Webb Space Telescope’s Giant Sunshield Test Unit Unfurled First Time

The sunshield test unit on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is unfurled for the first time. Credit: NASA

GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, MD – The huge Sunshield test unit for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been successfully unfurled for the first time in a key milestone ahead of the launch scheduled for October 2018.

Engineers stacked and expanded the tennis-court sized Sunshield test unit last week inside the cleanroom at a Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California.

NASA reports that the operation proceeded perfectly the first time during the test of the full-sized unit.

The Sunshield and every other JWST component must unfold perfectly and to precise tolerances in space because it has not been designed for servicing or repairs by astronaut crews voyaging beyond low-Earth orbit into deep space, William Ochs, Associate Director for JWST at NASA Goddard told me in an exclusive interview.

Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with Sunshield at bottom.  Credit: NASA/ESA
Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with Sunshield at bottom. Credit: NASA/ESA

The five layered Sunshield is the largest component of the observatory and acts like a parasol.

Its purpose is to protect Webb from the suns heat and passively cool the telescope and its quartet of sensitive science instruments via permanent shade to approximately 45 kelvins, -380 degrees F, -233 C.

The kite-shaped Sunshield provides an effective sun protection factor or SPF of 1,000,000. By comparison suntan lotion for humans has an SPF of 8 to 40.

Two sides of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Credit: NASA
Two sides of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Credit: NASA

The extreme cold is required for the telescope to function in the infrared (IR) wavelengths and enable it to look back in time further than ever before to detect distant objects.

The shield separates the observatory into a warm sun-facing side and a cold anti-sun side.

Its five thin membrane layers also provides a stable thermal environment to keep the telescopes 18 primary mirror segments properly aligned for Webb’s science investigations.

JWST is the successor to the 24 year old Hubble Space Telescope and will become the most powerful telescope ever sent to space.

The Webb Telescope is a joint international collaborative project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

NASA has overall responsibility and Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for JWST.

Webb will launch folded up inside the payload fairing of an ESA Ariane V ECA rocket from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

In launch configuration, the Sunshield will surround the main mirrors and instruments like an umbrella.

During the post launch journey to the L2 observing orbit at the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point nearly a million miles (1.5 million Km) from Earth, the telescopes mirrors and sunshield will begin a rather complex six month long unfolding and calibration process.

The science instruments have been mounted inside the ISIM science module and are currently undergoing critical vacuum chamber testing at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center which provides overall management and systems engineering.

Gold coated flight spare of a JWST primary mirror segment made of beryllium and used for test operations inside the NASA Goddard clean room.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Gold coated flight spare of a JWST primary mirror segment made of beryllium and used for test operations inside the NASA Goddard clean room. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The mirror segments have arrived at NASA Goddard where I’ve had the opportunity to observe and report on work in progress.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing JWST, MMS, ISS, Curiosity, Opportunity, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Boeing, Orion, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Sunshield test unit on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is unfurled for the first time at Northrup Grumman.  Credit: NASA
Sunshield test unit on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is unfurled for the first time at Northrup Grumman. Credit: NASA

Flawless Maiden Launch for Europe’s New Vega Rocket

On 13 February 2012, the first Vega lifted off on its maiden flight from Europe's South American Spaceport in French Guiana and deployed 9 science satellites. Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja

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Europe scored a major space success with today’s (Feb. 13) flawless maiden launch of the brand new Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The four stage Vega lifted off on the VV01 flight at 5:00 a.m. EST (10:00 GMT, 11:00 CET, 07:00 local time) from a new launch pad in South America, conducted a perfectly executed qualification flight and deployed 9 science satellites into Earth orbit.

Vega is a small rocket launcher designed to loft science and Earth observation satellites.

Liftoff of Maiden Vega Rocket on Feb. 13, 2012 on VV01 flight from ESA Spaceport at French Guiana. Credit: ESA

The payload consists of two Italian satellites – ASI’s LARES laser relativity satellite and the University of Bologna’s ALMASat-1 – as well as seven picosatellites provided by European universities: [email protected] (Italy), Goliat (Romania), MaSat-1 (Hungary), PW-Sat (Poland), Robusta (France), UniCubeSat GG (Italy) and Xatcobeo (Spain).

On 13 February 2012, the first Vega lifted off on its maiden flight from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja

Three of these cubesats were the first ever satellites to be built by Poland, Hungary and Romania. They were constructed by University students who were given a once in a lifetime opportunity by ESA to get practical experience and launch their satellites for free since this was Vega’s first flight.

The 30 meter tall Vega has been been under development for 9 years by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its partners, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), French Space Agency (CNES). Seven Member States contributed to the program including Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland as well as industry.

Vega's first launch, dubbed VV01, occurred on Feb 13, 2012 from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. It carried nine satellites into orbit: LARES, ALMASat-1 and seven Cubesats. Credits: ESA - J. Huart
ESA can now boast a family of three booster rockets that can service the full range of satellites from small to medium to heavy weight at their rapidly expanding South American Spaceport at the Guiana Space Center.

Vega joins Europe’s stable of launchers including the venerable Ariane V heavy lifter rocket family and the newly inaugurated medium class Russian built Soyuz booster and provides ESA with an enormous commercial leap in the satellite launching arena.

“In a little more than three months, Europe has increased the number of launchers it operates from one to three, widening significantly the range of launch services offered by the European operator Arianespace. There is not anymore one single European satellite which cannot be launched by a European launcher service,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

“It is a great day for ESA, its Member States, in particularly Italy where Vega was born, for European industry and for Arianespace.”

Dordain noted that an additional 200 workers have been hired in Guiana to meet the needs of Europe’s burgeoning space programs. Whereas budget cutbacks are forcing NASA and its contractors to lay off tens of thousands of people as a result of fallout from the global economic recession.

LARES, ALMASat-1 and CubeSats satellites integration for 1st Vega launch.
Credits: ESA, CNES, Arianespace, Optique Video du CSG, P. Baudon

ESA has already signed commercial contracts for future Vega launches and 5 more Vega rockets are already in production.

Vega’s light launch capacity accommodates a wide range of satellites – from 300 kg to 2500 kg – into a wide variety of orbits, from equatorial to Sun-synchronous.

“Today is a moment of pride for Europe as well as those around 1000 individuals who have been involved in developing the world’s most modern and competitive launcher system for small satellites,” said Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s Director of Launchers.

ESA’s new Vega rocket fully assembled on its launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Spectacular ATV Kepler Launch Photo Captured from Orbiting ISS

This remarkable photo was taken by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli from the ISS on 16 February 2011, just minutes after ATV Johannes Kepler lifted off on board an Ariane 5 from Kourou at 22:50 UTC. It shows the rising exhaust trail of Ariane, still in its initial vertical trajectory. The trail can be seen as a thin streak framed just beneath the Station's remote manipulator arm. Credits: ESA/ NASA

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Have you ever seen a space launch from orbit ?

Check out the spectacular launch photo (above) of the Johannes Kepler ATV streaking skyward atop an Ariane 5 rocket as captured by astronaut Paolo Nespoli from his unparalleled vantage point looking out the windows aboard the International Space Station (ISS), in orbit some 350 km above Earth.

The launch photo shows the rising exhaust trail from the rocket just minutes after blast off of the Ariane booster on Feb. 16 from the ESA rocket base in Kourou, French Guiana, South America. The rocket was still on a vertical ascent trajectory to orbit. Additional launch photos below from space and Earth.

Photo captured on 16 February 2011 from the real-time video from the Ariane 5 launcher during the flight V200 during the time of jettisoning the boosters.

The photo vividly illustrates the maturity of the European space effort since the launch base, Ariane booster rocket, Kepler payload and astronaut Nespoli all stem from Europe and are crucial to the future life of the ISS.

Ariane 5 rocket at the Launch pad at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana with Johannes Kepler ATV bolted on top prior to Feb. 16 blast off.

Kepler is set to dock at the ISS on Feb. 24 and an on time arrival is essential because of an impending orbital traffic jam.

Space Shuttle Discovery is due to link up with the ISS just six hous after Kepler if the orbiter launches according to schedule on Feb. 22.

Everything is nominal with Kepler’s spacecraft systems and orbital performance at this time say European Space Agency (ESA) officials, including the deployment of ATV’s four large solar wings.

Ariane 5 liftoff with Johannes Kepler ATV

The ATV, or Automated Transfer Vehicle, is a European built resupply vessel designed to transport essential cargo and provisions to the ISS. It is Europe’s contribution to stocking up the ISS.

Kepler is carrying carries more than seven metric tons of supplies and cargo for the ISS and will be used to reboost the outpost to a higher orbit during its planned four month mission.

“ATV is a truly European spacecraft. Flying it requires experts from ESA, partner agencies and industry across half a dozen countries,” said ESA’s Bob Chesson, Head of the Human Spaceflight Operations Department.

“Getting it built, into orbit and operating it in flight to docking requires a lot of hard work and dedication from hundreds of people.”

The ATV is named after Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the German astronomer and mathematician who is best known for discovering the laws of planetary motion. NASA also named its powerful new planet hunting space telescope after Kepler, which recently discovered the first earth sized planets orbiting inside the habitable zone.

After the shuttle is forcibly retired later this year in 2011, the very survival and continued use of the ISS will be completely dependent on a steady train of cargo and payloads lofted by unmanned resupply vessels including the ATV from Europe, HTV from Japan, Progress from Russia and commercial carriers such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences.

Photos of Ariane rockets rising exhaust trail from Feb. 16 ATV launch photographed from the ISS. Credits: ESA/ NASA

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Expedition 26 flight engineer, conducts a test run with the French/CNES neuroscientific research experiment 3D-Space (SAP) in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station.

ATV Successfully Launches to Space Station

Here’s a chance to practice your French countdown skills: watch today’s successful launch of the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle “Johannes” on a Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket blasted off on Feb. 16, 2011, carrying the “Johannes Kepler” cargo-carrying vehicle to the International Space Station. It will take eight days for the ATV to arrive and dock to the aft end of the International Space Station’s Zvezda Service Module. This is the second of ESA’s resupply vehicles, and is loaded with about seven tons of supplies and propellant for use by the six crew members on the ISS.

After yesterday’s scrub of Johannes Kepler, NASA had said that a launch of the ATV today (Wednesday) might delay the launch of space shuttle Discovery for STS-133. However, today, NASA said that might not be the case. Officials will decide Discovery’s launch date at the Flight Readiness Review on February 18. Currently, STS-133’s launch is scheduled for Feb. 24.

ATV ‘Johannes Kepler’ Launch to Space Station Delayed to Wednesday

The European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 (ATV-2) “Johannes Kepler” launch that was scheduled for Tuesday Feb. 15 was scrubbed due to a technical issue on the launch pad, and the slip could affect which day space shuttle Discovery launches for STS-133. Technicians at Launch Complex 3 in Kourou, French Guiana are looking at the problem, but preliminary details indicate some erroneous data on the status of the tank levels for fuel on the Ariane 5 rocket. They will go over the data carefully and if everything looks good they try again on Wednesday, Feb. 16.

This launch slip could change the launch date for STS-133, which is now scheduled for Feb. 24. If the ATV does launch on Wednesday (or on Thursday or Friday of this week), the launch of STS-133 will move to Feb. 25. But if the ATV launch slips beyond Friday means that the STS-133 launch stays on Feb. 24.

You can watch the launch attempt on Wednesday on NASA TV, and coverage will begin at 4:15 EST (21:15 GMT), with launch time at 4:50 pm EST (21:50 GMT). This is second launch of an ATV, and the 200th Ariane 5 launch.

In the meantime, find out more about the building of the ATV in this great video from ESA.
Continue reading “ATV ‘Johannes Kepler’ Launch to Space Station Delayed to Wednesday”

Ares-1 Rocket Could Be Re-born as “Liberty”

The Liberty launch vehicle combines the proven systems from the Space Shuttle and Ariane 5. (PRNewsFoto/ATK)

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An idea too good to die, or a case of recycle, reuse, reduce? Two rocket companies are joining forces to use part of the Ares-1 rocket and combine it with elements of the Ariane 5 launcher to create a new launch system called Liberty that they say will “close the US human spaceflight gap.” US company ATK (Alliant Techsystems) and the European firm Astrium announced their collaboration today on a 90-meter (300-ft) rocket that would fit under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development-2 (CCDev-2) procurement. The companies say the new rocket could be ready by 2013.

“This team represents the true sense of international partnership in that we looked across borders to find the best for our customers,” said Blake Larson, President of ATK Aerospace Systems Group in a press release. “Together we combine unique flight-proven systems and commercial experience that allows us to offer the market’s most capable launch vehicle along with flexibility to meet a wide variety of emerging needs. Liberty provides greater performance at less cost than any other comparable launch vehicle.”

The partners say Liberty would be much cheaper than the Ares I, because the unfinished upper stage of the Ares I would be replaced with the first stage of the Ariane 5, which has been launched successfully 41 consecutive times. The lower stage of the Liberty, a longer version of the shuttle booster built by ATK, would be almost the same as what was built for Ares-1.

he new Liberty launch vehicle will use existing infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center, such as the Mobile Launcher shown here. (PRNewsFoto/ATK)

Since both stages were designed for human-rating, the collaborators say this “would enable unmatched crew safety.” The team has planned an initial flight by the end of 2013, a second test flight in 2014, and operational capability in 2015.

Liberty would be able to deliver 20,000 kg (44,500 lbs) to the International Space Station’s orbit, which would give it a launch capability to carry any crew vehicle in development. This is less payload capability, however, than the 25-ton payload that the Ares-1 was advertised to deliver to the ISS.

With the announcement of the collaboration (and quick turn-around) the companies are hoping to be the recipient of some of the $200 million in funding NASA is planning to give out in March 2011 to private companies that are developing space taxis. Smaller NewSpace companies like SpaceX and , Orbital, along with big companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing are all vying for the CCDev-2 contracts.

With some space experts and Congress expressing concern about the length of time it might take for commercial companies to provide reliable transportation to space, as well as concerns about relying on the Russian Soyuz vehicles, this new collaboration could fit NASA’s needs nicely. Plus, the collaborators are hoping the new Liberty rocket will be a bargain compared to other contenders. They are targeting a price of $180 million per launch, which is slightly less than the Atlas V rocket launches by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin United Launch Alliance, ($187 million).

The two companies have touted the new rockets’ ability to carry a wide array of spacecraft and satellites.

“The Liberty initiative provides tremendous value because it builds on European Ariane 5 launcher heritage, while allowing NASA to leverage the mature first stage,” said former NASA astronaut Charlie Precourt, Vice President and General Manager of ATK Space Launch Systems. “We will provide unmatched payload performance at a fraction of the cost, and we will launch it from the Kennedy Space Center using facilities that have already been built. This approach allows NASA to utilize the investments that have already been made in our nation’s ground infrastructure and propulsion systems for the Space Exploration Program.”

If NASA chooses the Liberty system and it works well, it could mean that the money NASA spent on the Ares rocket was not wasted after all.

ATK has put together this video about “Liberty”

Source: ATK

Ariane 5 Rocket Lifts Off for Final Launch of 2010

One final rocket launch in 2010 took place as Arianespace successfully launched the Hispasat 1E and KOREASAT 6 telecommunication satellites aboard an Ariane 5 ECA rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. Liftoff was at 4:27 p.m. EST (21:27 GMT).

KOREASAT 6 is a commercial telecommunications satellite of the KT Corporation of the Republic of Korea and was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation. Hispasat 1E is a telecommunications satellite designed to expand Hispasat’s coverage in Europe, the Americas, and North Africa.

This is the sixth and final flight of the year for Arianespace’s heavy-lift rocket.